Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory in the fraught elections amid accusations from opponents of vote rigging

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Campaign posters for Nawaz Sharif, former Pakistani Prime Minister, along a street ahead of Pakistan’s national elections in Lahore, Pakistan, on Friday, February 2, 2024.

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Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday declared victory in the country’s 2024 general elections, an election that many Pakistanis and human rights groups have denounced as neither free nor fair.

Sharif, 74, quoted the Election Commission of Pakistan as saying that his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, won the largest share of the national vote. Multiple media reports stated That independent candidates, backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, were actually leading at the midway point of the vote count.

Polling stations closed on Thursday at 5 p.m. local time, after a day of voting marred by armed attacks and accusations of electoral misconduct. The vote counting process was subjected to a long delay, as the Election Commission ordered the immediate announcement of the results in the early hours of Friday morning, after more than 10 hours of waiting.

The elections, which began voting on the morning of February 8, come at a particularly turbulent time for the country of 240 million people. Pakistan, known for decades of volatile politics that included assassinations, prisons and military coups, is now in the midst of an economic crisis, and its largest party has been banned from running in elections.

The contest to lead the country in 2024 is “one of the starkest races in terms of the degree of military involvement,” Pramit Pal Chowdhury, head of the South Asia practice at the Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Thursday.

“Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will almost certainly win,” Chaudhuri said at the opening of the polls. “But it will come off as a noticeably illegitimate government to the wider public.”

Sharif, who previously served as Pakistan’s prime minister three separate times in 1990, 1997 and 2013, returned from self-imposed exile in the UK last year after mending a long-running battle with the country’s powerful military, which plays a crucial role in the country’s reform. Policy. Pakistani courts last year overturned a lifetime ban on participation in politics and multiple corruption convictions against Sharif. He ran in the country’s last general election while in prison.

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry announced Thursday that it has decided to cut off cell phone service across the country and close Pakistan’s land borders due to the security situation, which analysts say is likely intended to stifle coordination between opposition candidates.

An analyst says that the Pakistani elections

Among the latest dramatic developments was the sentencing just over a week ago of Imran Khan, the former Pakistani prime minister who had long been seen as the favorite to win the election.

Khan (72 years old) was sentenced to prison several times, one for 10 years and the second for 14 years, on charges of illegal gain and divulging state secrets, which Khan denies. in the weekendHe was also sentenced to seven years in prison for illegal marriage.

Khan was removed from office by the country’s judiciary in 2022 on corruption charges, and has consistently said that efforts against him are the work of political opponents.

Khan, a former captain of the Pakistan national cricket team, remains a popular figure domestically. His political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – which was She was recently banned from running for election in a harsh crackdown – It is the largest in the country.

Khan called on his supporters to “come out in their millions on election day and defeat the planners,” and the party presents candidates who will run in the elections as independents, even though they did not attract the numbers necessary to form the government.

Analysts and ordinary Pakistanis say the country’s political reality is dictated by the military, without whose blessing no elected leader can survive for long.

After enjoying the support of the military during his initial rise to power, Khan and the feared establishment later fell out, which many in the country say is why the former leader was ousted and arrested.

Videos posted on social media by opposition political parties, including Khan’s party, showed the destruction and theft of ballot boxes, and long queues of voters who had not cast their ballots by the time the polls closed. CNBC has not independently verified the footage.

This article originally appeared on www.cnbc.com

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